Practicing U.S. Tax Law in London: A Conversation with Isy LeBlanc, ‘NDLS 13

Early last week, I spoke with Isy Leblanc, Senior Associate in KPMG’s London office and 2013 Notre Dame Law School graduate. Isy has forged an exciting career practicing U.S. tax law in London. I spoke with him about how he got where he is today and lessons learned along the way.

KM: What did you do during your law school summers?

IL: I worked as a Research Assistant for Professor Pojanowski during my first summer. Since New York was my target market for a law firm position after graduation, I participated in Notre Dame’s New York OCIP to interview for a second year summer position. Due to the economic climate at the time, far fewer firms participated in the program that year than usual, and opportunities were very limited. I received one callback interview from an international law firm that I was keen to work for. But it wasn’t meant to be.

I arranged to fly to New York for the callback two days before flying back to London for my second year of law school and that weekend, Hurricane Irene hit the east coast. My flight got cancelled and although I offered to drive in from South Bend for the interview, I was advised that the law firm’s offices would be closed. The firm offered to reschedule my interview with their managing partner in London. Unfortunately, it ended up taking three weeks until the London interview materialized and by that point the firm had already extended too many offers that had been accepted and its summer program was full.

I was stuck home in London and it is very difficult to interview with firms in the United States when you are in London.

Once you fall out of the hiring cycle for law firms, it is very difficult to get back in the loop. By not having a 2L summer associate position, I think I was at a big disadvantage in securing a post-graduation law firm job.

In any event, for my 2nd law school summer, I ended up working for a federal judge in Cleveland.

KM: What was your first job out of law school?

IL: After graduation, I worked in New York City for almost a year before I returned to the UK. For the first six months I worked through Notre Dame’s ‘bridge to practice’ program. Specifically, I worked as a fellow in the Commercial and Real Estate Litigation Division of the New York City Law Department.

KM: After your fellowship ended, what was next?

IL: It was then that I first started working in tax. I was offered a seasonal position with PWC to work in one of its tax groups during the tax busy season.

Since I am not a U.S. citizen, I was only allowed to work in the U.S. for one year post graduation under my student visa and then had to obtain a work visa to stay. To do so I had to be first be sponsored by an employer and then selected from an annual work visa lottery. In the end, despite having a sponsor, I was not selected from the lottery, which meant I had to return to the UK.

KM: What did you do when you learned that you were not going to get a U.S. visa?

IL: I returned to London without a job and started sending resumes out. I reached out to the U.S. tax group at Deloitte, which is part of the UK Deloitte firm and ended up getting an offer. The position was not totally ideal for someone with my skill set in that a large part of the work involved U.S. tax compliance, work more suited to someone with an accounting rather than legal background. However, the role also had a U.S. tax advisory element to it and in that respect I was able to utilize my U.S. law degree.

In general, I found that job options in London for entry level U.S. qualified lawyers were very limited unless I was looking to re-qualify as a UK solicitor.

KM: Why did Deloitte recognize your law degree when other London employers did not?

IL: The U.S. tax practice at Deloitte in London deals specifically with U.S. tax, an area of U.S. federal law. Within U.S. tax practices at accounting firms there is both tax advisory and compliance work, and the advisory work is typically performed by U.S. attorneys. Although the U.S. tax team at Deloitte in London is primarily focused on compliance, meaning that they assist in preparing U.S. tax returns for U.S. investors investing in Europe or foreign investors with a taxable presence in the U.S., there is an advisory component to their practice as well for which they utilize attorneys.

KM: How long were you at Deloitte?           

IL: One year. Since a significant part of the position was compliance related, it was not a perfect fit for someone with a legal background so I looked around for a position that better aligned with my skill set and interest in law.

KM: What is the work like when you first start out at KPMG? Do you have to work your way up to working with senior staff?

IL:  The group mostly recruits for entry level positions from tax LLM programs in the U.S. The work generally involves international and domestic tax research as well as drafting tax memoranda, opinions, and structuring reports. A lot of the projects require working closely with KPMG tax advisors from other jurisdictions, mostly KPMG UK and KPMG Germany.

The U.S. tax group at KPMG is London is uniquely ‘flat’ rather than hierarchical in comparison to similar groups in the U.S., meaning that junior members of the group often work directly with partners. The exposure to experts in the field you get is exceptional and entry levels can be given complex deals very early on. The opportunities for growth and accelerated advancement are high because you are given as much responsibility as you are willing and able to handle.

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